My Encounter With Brick Thieves in North St. Louis

I set out on Saturday afternoon for a friend’s birthday party in Tower Grove South, when I decided to take a detour through North St. Louis to take some photos of some old buildings for this site. I had become interested in a section of the city known as St. Louis Place, a wedge shaped neighborhood just north of downtown between Jefferson and N. Florissant Aves. I knew the area vaguely, but basically decided to do some exploring. It did not take me long for my day to become much more interesting.

I turned down Montgomery Street (chosen mainly because it wasn’t a one way street) off of N. Florissant when I saw the above, rather spectacular building collapse. I pulled over, snapped a picture, and then headed about a hundred more feet up the street.

That’s funny, I thought, that house up ahead looks really familiar. I realized that I had seen it here, the Built St. Louis blog about “brick rustlers.” I also noticed a powder blue van parked right out in front of the house, and that a much larger chunk of the house was missing–in fact the whole side of the house was now completely gone. I drove a little farther, and snapped this picture of some in-fill housing along St. Louis Place Park.

I casually glanced in my rear view mirror, only to realize that the powder blue van was now accelerating rapidly towards me.

It was one of those instinctual moments, when I just knew immediately that it wasn’t a coincidence that this van’s owner had decided to leave right as I passed by. I realized then that the van’s driver had been watching me snap a picture of the collapsed house, which I realized later when I examined the first photo, most likely had collapsed because of brick theft.

My heart was racing, and I realized I had to get the heck out of there–immediately. I fumbled for my cellphone in my coat pocket. I accelerated up to 40 mph, rolled through some stop signs–and more importantly, took a series of arbitrary turns to see if the powder blue van would follow. Even after I made a series of non-nonsensical turns, it was still right on my tail–there was no way that the driver could have been coincidently taking the same path I was taking. I reached St. Louis Ave, with the van a good half block away, but luckily, its engine was approximately 25 years older than my car’s, and I quickly began to put distance between myself and my pursuer. I got out onto N. Florissant and headed south. If worse came to worse, I would simply pull up in front of Police Headquarters on Clark St., I reasoned to myself.

Luckily, the van at this point had stopped its pursuit, but I wasn’t completely calmed down until I was onto Highway 40. There’s something outrageous about people committing open theft in broad daylight, and being stupid enough to draw attention to themselves. I quite frankly had ignored the van at first, and only was drawn to its presence after it began chasing me. How did the van’s owner know I wasn’t a cop, quite frankly? And where are the police, anyway? The “harvesting” of brick from this house has been going on for months, if not half a year on this street, and not one police detective doesn’t want to score an easy arrest of these bozos?

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Wow, that’s an exciting story.You do for architecture what Indiana Jones did for archaeology.

  2. Chris says:

    I felt kind of bad afterwards about speeding around like that. Luckily the area is so abandoned I really didn’t even pass anybody else up as I fled the area.

  3. Jim says:

    They all must know to stay inside when that blue van comes around.

  4. Chris says:

    I told some people the story this weekend, calling it a “molester van.” They thought that was pretty funny.

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